The NewesLetter Vol 28 no. 1 ;  February 3, 2024

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Recently, I was invited to speak at a local congregation. Fishing for a topic to speak on, I asked them what has been on their minds lately. Their answer clearly expressed their sense of burden: wars, elections and basically the state of the world. Other friends are struggling with leadership scandals, interpersonal conflicts, and personal issues. I have attended two funerals in the past two weeks. How do we deal with all this? And then I realized. We are not alone. Jesus faced the same things when he walked the earth. I wonder if we have something to learn from Jesus.

Jesus faced the same things. Let’s start with wars. In my Deep and Wide, I used the phrase “powder keg” to describe the socio-political environment in the first century. Ancient historian Josephus tells of bandits, messianic movements, and revolt attempts leading up to the first Jewish-Roman War about 30 years after Jesus’s death. Leadership scandals? Shall we speak of the intrigue leading to the Roman emperor, Tiberius’s execution of his chief military officer, Sejanus? More locally, we could go on an on about the Herodian family’s affairs, but you can read about that in Mark 6:14–28. How about interpersonal conflicts? Jesus’s followers were constantly fighting among one another. One of them betrayed him. And personal issues? You bet. Jesus felt more deeply than we can imagine the sufferings of the people he encountered. Furthermore, I think it is reasonable to understand Jesus as a fully-human man, struggling to make sense of his own role and identity. (see, for example, N. T. Wright’s treatment of this in his Jesus and the Victory of God) No wonder Jesus sweat blood in the garden of Gethsemane!

So, how did Jesus live in the midst of his overwhelming surroundings: political, communal, and personal? There is so much to say, but I will only mention three items here, three aspects of Jesus’s earthly life that give us clues regarding how we might live in the midst of our own broken world. Then, after talking about these three, I want to mention one more thing.

First, Jesus cried. He shared the tears of his suffering friends. Jesus witnessed his friend Mary crying over the death of her brother Lazarus (see John 11:33). In earlier verses we get the sense that Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus. Yet when he saw Mary and others weeping, he himself was “deeply moved in spirit” and in the next verse—the shortest verse in the Bible—we read that “Jesus wept.”

Jesus also cried in solidarity with those who would suffer from socio-political brokenness. Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on a colt a symbolic demonstration of his messianic kingship. But as he entered, it was not a kingly demeanor he exhibited. Instead, we read, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace . . . The days will come . . .” (Luke 19:41–42). Jesus saw—and felt—the trauma of a broken political system.

Finally we read in the book of Hebrews that “during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7). It is possible that the author is speaking of what happened in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus “began to be deeply distressed and troubled,” where Jesus himself declares, “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14: 33–34). The prayer Jesus prays as he steps aside is, “Take this cup from me” (v. 35). I can easily imagine the tears that accompanied this prayer.

In the midst of the overwhelming, Jesus cried. He cried in compassion for others. He cried over the state of the world. He cried about his own personal struggles. And if we want to learn to live like Jesus, then I think we need to learn to cry just like him.

Second, Jesus cared. He didn’t just complain about, or acknowledge—or better, feel—the problems of the world. He did something about them. As the Gospels repeatedly describe, Jesus was moved with compassion, and acts. Matthew speaks of Jesus traveling through the towns healing and delivering and then in the very next verse he states that “when he saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless” (Matthew 9:36). Jesus had compassion on a pair of blind men, touches their eyes, and heals them (Matthew 20:34). A man with leprosy comes to Jesus. Again the narrative speaks of Jesus’s empathy (Mark 1:41; was it compassion or was he indignant?). Then it continues, “He reached out his hand and touched the man.” And the man was cleansed and restored—both physically and socially.

We have already seen the connection between Jesus’s compassion for Jerusalem and his triumphal entry. In the following scene in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus enters the Jerusalem temple area, drives out the money changers, and heals the blind and the lame—in a clear and open rejection of his own religious system as it was practiced (see Matthew 21:12–15). Jesus spoke out against injustice. Jesus restored the hurting. Jesus delivered those harassed and helpless. How do we follow Jesus in the midst of a hurting world? We cry, but we also care, reaching out to offer welcome, healing, and restoration to both individuals and institutions.

Finally, Jesus formed an alternative community. What I mean by this is that Jesus modeled, preached, and died exhibiting the values of God. At the same time he gathered and led others into a community learning to live these same values, values that were in contrast to those of the secular and religious cultures of his day. Jesus called and inaugurated a community that, upon the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, would be empowered to live the very radical life he invited. I have treated this more fully in the chapter “We Model a Good Society” in Deep and Wide. Jesus came proclaiming that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (or “has come near” Mark 1:15). What does this look like? Consider money and possessions. Jesus calls some of his followers to “leave all” (see Luke 18:18–30). He praises the tax collector who redistributes his income (Luke 19:8–9). The band of disciples seem to have shared their meager income in common (John 13: 29). He warns his followers about the dangers of riches. Or consider Jesus’s attention to outcasts. Tax collectors, lepers, women, Samaritans, “zealots” and more were all welcomed by the Jesus movement. Jesus offered welcome to the least and he encouraged his followers to do the same (Luke 14:13–14; Matthew 25:31–46). Or we might consider Jesus’s approach to power. The most powerful human being in history refused the temptation to grasp that power. Jesus chose the way of collaborative power, using his own abilities to care for those who suffered and to equip and release others into ministry (Luke 10:1–12).

We who have received the Spirit of Christ now have the freedom to follow Jesus into a new life as the community of the King. The Christian church holds money and possessions lightly (Acts 2:44–45; 2 Corinthians 8:13–15; James 5:1–5). The Christian church welcomes the least, whether Gentiles or orphans (Galatians 2:6–7; James 1:27). The Christian church takes a collaborative view of power (Acts 15:1–21). In a context of violence, Jesus lived, taught, and died a counter-cultural way of peace. In a context of religious factions, Jesus welcomed sinners and disciples from every viewpoint, teaching them how to love one another. The church is invited to do the same.

We can learn from Jesus how to live in the midst of the overwhelming: the political, social, and personal burdens that want to drag us down. We often choose the way of complaining, of escaping. Those who follow Jesus choose the way of crying, of caring, of being an alternative community.

One more thing. You see, it’s not just about the way of Jesus’s life, but also about his death, resurrection and more. All that I have spoken about would be fruitless were it not for Jesus’s crucifixion which gave us forgiveness and reconciliation. The Christian alternative community is a foretaste of the resurrected church, realized only in the context of Christ’s own resurrection. We cannot begin to imitate the life of Christ without apart from the infilling of the Holy Spirit of Christ within. How can face the overwhelming burdens of our own personal circumstances and the state of this world? We face the world—and our pain—with the eyes of Jesus: eyes that shed tears, eyes that look upon the least with compassion, eyes that look toward a new way of life. And we do so in the power of the Christ who died and rose again.

May the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be with you all.

By God’s Grace,

Evan B. Howard